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On Illegal and Unnecessary Wars

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Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine railed against Congressional abdication and presidential overreach regarding the war on ISIS yesterday:

What could you do that could be more publicly immoral than ordering people to risk their lives without…having a discussion about whether the mission is worth it or not?

Kaine’s point is well-taken, and this is one more reason why the war against ISIS needs to be debated and voted on in spite of the president’s pretense that he doesn’t need Congressional approval. It is profoundly wrong to commit the U.S. to military action without having first considered the merits of the operation publicly and deliberately, but there is something even worse. It is even worse to commit the U.S. to a war that isn’t necessary for American security whether Congress has gone through the motions of a debate or not. The 2003 invasion was debated at some length, and Congress voted on a resolution, and yet that didn’t stop the U.S. from starting an unnecessary, unwise, and unjust war. Kaine is correct that Congress mustn’t be permitted to keep dodging its responsibilities on matters of war, and presidents mustn’t be allowed to wage wars without Congressional approval, but it’s even more important that members of Congress break the habit of signing off on the latest elective war. It is Congress’ habitual deference to bad presidential judgment on matters of war that is even more appalling than its refusal to debate and vote on the wars presidents choose to start. That can’t be fixed without first reviving Congress’ role in the process, but simply getting Congress to debate and vote on these wars is also woefully insufficient. That’s especially true when the debate doesn’t start until well after war has already begun and the outcome of the vote is a foregone conclusion.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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